A callus is thick, raised layer of hard skin that develops as a defense mechanism against frequent rubbing or pressure in a process known as hyperkeratosis. The condition tends to occur most often around bones on the hands or feet, especially underneath the heel. A heel callus can be due to bone structure of the foot or incorrectly fitting footwear.
The physical appearance of a heel callus can vary depending on the severity. When the skin goes through hyperkeratosis, it develops a patch of dead skin which can more easily handle pressure. The callus will generally be a different color and have a much harder texture that will not flake off like normal skin. It can be a small area of the heel or expand across the entire bottom of the heel, and may feel tender or very painful.
A heel callus is caused by irritation or constant rubbing against a shoe or the ground. The irritation can be a result of shoes, socks, or hosiery that does not fit correctly and makes the heel either move too much inside a loose shoe or chafe against the bottom of a shoe that is too tight. It tends to occur most often from high heels or shoes with tight, pointy toes. Heel calluses are also more likely to occur in people who have flat feet without a bottom arch or people with too much of an arch shape. Obesity may contribute to the development of heel calluses due to the foot absorbing the impact from excess weight.
Since a heel callus is the result of improper shock absorption or friction, it can be treated simply by a person switching to a more supportive, better fitting shoe that is more equipped to withstand the pressure, especially for someone who is constantly on his or her feet. To minimize the pain from a callus, a person can apply a callus removing product that is designed to safely penetrate and soften the dead skin or gently scrub off the callus layers with a file specifically designed for calluses. A person can also use thick moisturizing cream twice a day to make the callus feel smoother.
Heel calluses are usually bothersome and not typically dangerous on their own, but they can have serious complications if a person tries to physically remove them. Slicing off a heel callus with a knife or other sharp object can be dangerous because it is difficult to cut through just the dead skin and not accidentally reach the normal skin beneath it. An improperly removed callus can result in severe cuts, which can lead to infection.